What are the symptoms of pleural plaques?

Posted: 15th Jan 21 8:00 AM

Pleural plaques are the most common sign of past exposure to asbestos. They are areas of slight fibrous thickening on the pleura – the lining of the lungs and rib cage. The disease usually develops 20 to 30 years after exposure to, and the inhalation of, asbestos dust and fibres.

Pleural plaques are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous, and they cannot become cancerous over time.

In almost all cases of pleural plaques there are no symptoms, however, in less than 1% of cases people have described an uncomfortable “grating” sensation when they breathe.

Pleural plaques can develop on both layers of the pleura – the membrane that covers the lungs and rib cage, and aids in breathing functions. They most commonly develop on the parietal pleura, which lines the inside of the rib cage, but can also affect the visceral pleura, which lines the lungs.

What causes pleural plaques?

Pleural plaques are exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. They form when microscopic asbestos fibres become lodged in pleura and, over time, cause damage and fibrous scar tissue to form.

Like other asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques does not develop until decades after initial exposure; for pleural plaques, this is usually 20 – 30 years after exposure.

Having the disease does not mean that you are certain to go on to develop a separate, more serious asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.

However, because a diagnosis of pleural plaques confirms past exposure to asbestos, there is an increased risk of developing a further asbestos-related disease later in life.

Most experts agree that risk of developing the disease is dose-dependent, meaning that risk of developing pleural plaques increases with the levels of previous asbestos exposure, although low levels can still cause pleural plaques to develop.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with pleural plaques?

If you have been told that you have pleural plaques by your doctor, it is important not to worry, as it is a symptomless and benign condition, with no effect on your health or lifespan.

However, it is very important to keep vigilant and return for check-ups and X-Rays every 2 – 3 years. If you ever notice any change or deterioration to your respiratory health, such as developing a persistent cough that lasts for 3 weeks or more, chest pains, or shortness of breath on minimal exertion, you should speak to you doctor as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms and past exposure to asbestos.

At the National Asbestos Helpline we run the national pleural plaques register. If you are diagnosed, get in touch so we can make sure you are registered, and you will receive updates through a newsletter a few times a year.

Get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline today – call us on 0800 043 6635 or email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk.

Further reading

Can you claim compensation for pleural plaques?

Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?

Can I claim for asbestos exposure?

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

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